by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
June 28, 2012
VERMONT PUSHES AHEAD WITH HEALTH CARE REFORM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld President Obama's Affordable Care Act, Vermont is plowing ahead with its efforts to establish a system of single-payer state health care where every resident will eventually be eligible for publicly-funded coverage.
The program known as Green Mountain Care is still very much a work in progress and, at best, it will take another five or six years to fully fund and implement this system. But the process is in motion, and the progress made so far is alarming enough to the political enemies of single-payer health care that an unprecedented amount of money and lobbying is being thrown into the fight.
The biggest battle will occur next year in the Vermont Legislature. While Democrats are assured of a solid majority in both the House and Senate, and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin appears certain to win a second term as governor, Vermont Republicans and conservative Democrats will try to slow down reform efforts as the big decisions about the health benefits of Green Mountain Care, and how it will be paid for, are debated.
For those who want to make sure that single-payer never happens in Vermont, or any other state, the stakes are high.
On the same day that the Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act from oblivion, a new non-profit advocacy group called "Vermont Leads: Single Payer Now!" made its debut. The 501(c)(4) plans to spend more than $100,000 on a six-month campaign to, in its words, "engage and activate Vermonters through media and grassroots organizing."
In a small state like Vermont, where big-money politics is unknown, this is a lot of money.
Most of it is coming from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). While the SEIU does not have a single member in Vermont, the SEIU is the biggest union in the country and with 1.9 million members nationally, it seemingly has plenty of muscle and money to create an effective advocacy campaign. But there are other factors at work.
According to a recent article by labor journalist Steve Early on Labor Notes.org, SEIU is competing with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to organize 5,000 personal-care attendants in Vermont. Neither union will be able to gain these workers without Shumlin and the Legislature agreeing to create a new home-care bargaining unit in Vermont.
Early writes that the quid pro quo for Shumlin is that he is up for re-election this year. Since the governor is under pressure from business interests regarding single-payer, SEIU might provide political cover for Shumlin.
The SEIU's track record regarding health-care reform is not a good one. It has undermined single-payer efforts in California and Massachusetts, and on the national level with President Obama's Affordable Care Act. In all three cases, the union backed plans that kept a true public option for health care off the table.
The fear in Vermont, according to Early, is that the SEIU "will eventually play the same role locally that it did nationally in 2009-2010. If that results in another squandered political moment - this time leaving Vermonters cynical and distrustful about what can be accomplished in Montpelier - the repercussions will be felt in every other state capital where progressives still hope to improve on the Affordable Care Act."
The SEIU denies this is the case. Matt McDonald, an SEIU staff member who will be on the Vermont Leads board, told VTDigger.org this week that while the union does have a goal of organizing home-care workers in Vermont, that goal coincides with efforts to create a single-payer system.
McDonald said that SEIU leadership met with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin at a Democratic Governors Association event, and the union believes what is happening in Vermont with single-payer is the most interesting and exciting development in the country.
Of course, the opponents of single-payer are crying foul and see Vermont Leads as just another super-PAC funneling union money into the political process. Considering the fact that the medical-industrial complex has vastly outspent the reformers over the last three years, that charge is laughable.
Even with this influx of cash, recent history has shown that Vermont is still a state where one-on-one relationships drive its politics and citizen involvement in government is non-negotiable.
Considering that in a recent statewide poll single-payer is supported by nearly 48 percent of Vermonters - compared to 36 percent opposed - it's going to be tough for the usual right-wing tactics to change people's minds.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.